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Influence of Magazines on Beauty | Cross-Cultural Analysis

Info: 5415 words (22 pages) Dissertation
Published: 6th Dec 2019

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Tagged: Cultural Studies


Beauty is not concrete and may vary from culture to culture changing over time and shifting according to location. "Beauty" is an image which has been created by society to which woman and men have had to subject themselves to be "real". The ideology of beauty or what is accepted as being the right appearance has been created by society and largely propagated by media. For United States of the 1950s Marilyn Monroe was the pinnacle of beauty which soon changed to Twiggy in the 1960s. While porcelain skin is valued in China, scarification of the skin and decorating it with tattoos is considered as a status symbol in Africa. Thus the physical attributes and ideas attached to beauty vary across cultures.

"Women's magazine industry is understood as a monolithic meaning producer, circulating magazines that contain messages and signs about the nature of femininity that serve to promote and legitimate dominant interests." (Anna Gough- Yates). A majority of feminist critics argue that media is responsible for establishing and promoting gender differences and inequalities in society. In respect media persons are considered responsible for reinforcing capitalism and patriarchy; manipulating society to attain increased circulation figures.

Magazines are a great source, to study the society. Recording changes, from the purely fashion magazine couture age of 1920's, to 'lifestyle and home' of the 1940's when domestic help was rare and woman to a personal interest in their homes. To 'New woman' of the 1980's when woman began to work alongside men in almost every field to 'do it yourself' of the 20th century with soaring costs and economic downturn. Magazines reflect revolutions in society and influenced the opinion of women across nations.

Given the increase in trade to Asia and the spread of the beauty industry across nations, there is limited study available on how people are depicted internationally in the fashion magazines. Previous research has established that woman's magazines can act as agents of publicizing gender stereotypes and beauty ideals like size zero and institutionalizing conventions like photographic poses. (Rudman and Verdi, 1993; Griffin, Viswanath, Schwartz, 1994). Yet little research has been done on the differences in representation of women internationally and locally.


"One must establish what people are looking at before one can hope to understand why under the conditions peculiar to them, they see what they see" Rudolf Arnhein (Arnhein 1977:4)

An image is that stimulus or representation that compels us to cognition, interpretation and personal preference. If we understand that the market is image based than we also begin to understand the importance of vision in understanding management in the information society. Images are where visual communication starts. Jonathan E. Schroeder confirms in his study of media that "visual consumption" is critically important for understanding contemporary consumers. Today marketing professionals are sensitive towards global customers and realise that they are enthusiastic consumers of images. 'Brand image, corporate image and self image are significant economic and consumer values and that global market culture is largely the construction of symbolic environments.' (S. E. Jonathan, 2002) This is of great importance especially in the 21st century as the importance of marketing management and consumer research in this century may shift from "problem solving to problem recognition from production of goods to the production of images" (S. E. Jonathan, 2002)

Through time marketers have learnt that markets are global which should translate into local approach. But when companies globalise they become more production driven wanting to sell more thus having common promotional strategies across cultures, sticking to one single image, hardly realising that 'there may be global products, but there are no global people. There may be global brands but there are no common global motivators to buy those brands.' (M. De Mooij, 2009). Many brands have with the help of technology and communication tried to globalise nations. But technology has not brought a global village in which consumers all behave the same.


Globalisation is best defined as "the crystallization of the entire world as a single place" (Robertson, Ronald. 1990. Mapping the Global Condition: Globalization as the Central Concept. Theory, Culture and Society 7)

Due to the success of global brands writers have predicted an unavoidable colonization of world culture by internationalised brands that would most definitely lead to demise of local cultures. However there is also evidence that suggests social relationships and values in local culture are resistant to the negative effects of globalization. On one hand globalisation is expected to destroy local cultures and bring about homogeneity while on the other hand it is also the reason for the revival of local cultural identities from various parts of the world. Today the expansion of western cultures values and ideas has reached the far corners of the world, right to Asian countries like India and China which have been dominant till the 21st century. Now that these countries have become important players in the world market, counter expansion of values and culture can also be seen.

Over the past few decades there has been a rapid expansion of global brands in the media sector more than ever in the area of woman's fashion magazines. Local editions of Elle, Harpers Baazar and Vogue are now being published in Asia. The internationalization of a magazine is not a new phenomenon although until quite recently the most popular woman's magazines have been published locally. Harpers Bazaar, a U.S magazine launched itself in U.K. in 1929 (Anna Gough-Yates, 1993), Elle a European magazine began publishing its first edition in Japan in 1960's while Vogue a U.S magazine entered the Indian market in the 21st century. However "the establishment of an integrated global media market only began in earnest in the late 1980's and did not reach its full potential until the 1990's." (Herman and Mc Chesney ,1997, p10)

The latest NRS (National Readership Survey) figures suggest that the total readership market in U.K. for the months of July and December 2008 has risen by 10% since last year, while the total market for women's lifestyle and fashion magazines has grown by 7 %. (IPC Advertising) A similar trend was observed in USA where magazine subscription reached a ten year high in 2008 and with the total number of magazines published reaching 20,590 the total percentage of subscriptions also increased by 1.4% (MPA Magazine Publishers of America, ABC) Comparatively in Asia according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers the Asia/Pacific magazine market excluding Japan is projected to grow by 7.2% annually, reaching $20.7 billion by 2010, Advertising is also expected to rise by 5% annually to $8.1 billion in 2010. This means there's plenty of potential for countries in South Asia, where advertising spending is just about 0.34% of GDP. Until now foreign brands were allowed only 26% ownership when venturing into Asian countries. But in 2005 most of the Asian countries levelled the field for non news publications allowing 100% foreign direct investment. (D. Ruth, 2007, Forbes)

In an age looking towards the internet for all information and goods there is a risk that print media and magazine subscriptions may fall contrary to predictions. A recent research conducted by PPA marketing suggests that the internet does not have any harmful effect on people's desire to read offline, in fact in some cases reading websites encourages them to read magazines. Out of 1500 adults between the age of 18- 34 surveyed online revealed that people's expectations and goals from each medium depends on the subject matter and for the subject of beauty and fashion print magazines are an obvious choice. Also the idea of owning a piece of fashion history through the beautifully photographed and styled images in fashion magazines makes print media a lucrative choice.

With fashion going cross cultures, print media being the apparent choice of the masses to keep them in trend and the governments giving publication houses the clear there is nothing stopping international fashion magazines going local. Like all the other global media, magazines use many different strategies to cross the borders. The main reasons for crossing borders are 'saturation of home markets and to generate revenue by providing international consumer brands with advertising vehicles that reach into the expanding foreign markets'(Dr. Katherine Frith, 2006,pg4-5). For example Condé Nast which has a portfolio of 127 magazines in 23 countries had to close down Mademoiselle in November 2001 due to competition, flagging sales and saturation of magazine houses. Markets with rising economic rates like Asia and Middle East, as a result have become a target for westerns producers of beauty and fashion magazines.


Many women across cultures are influenced by general trends in fashion and follow although at a distance the fashion industry. The relationship between consumers and trends is complex but it is mediated by fashion magazines.

The difference between international fashion magazines and their 'local' versions is that the international issues tend to carry a predominance of images for multinational products. (Shaw, 1999). Such magazines are growing in popularity in Asia and this popularity has bought about a change in perspective regarding the depiction of woman and products in local magazines. Griffin, Viswanath, and Schwartz(1994) found in a study comparing images in weekly U.S. news magazines (Time and Life) to weekly Indian magazines (India Today and Illustrated weekly of India), that many of the western advertising principles and poses for women were being conveyed across nations. They confirmed that female models in India were taking on poses that related closely to 'gender portrayals 'of the advanced western nations. A recent analysis of magazines international and local in China by Frith, Cheng and Shaw (2004) suggests that Caucasian models are more frequently shown in seductive dresses than Asian models. Feminist critiques like Kates, Shaw and Garlock (1999) would argue that western magazines are cultural institutions that represent women in a problematic and often unacceptable way although attractive female bodies and sexual content have for long been used in the west to draw consumers to a product and generate interest. Comparing this to the representation of woman across cultures with reference to the few studies conducted on the topic; Griffin, Viswanath and Schwartz (1994) concluded that the use of "Sexual pursuit" as a theme was used three times more often in American magazines than magazines in India. In conservative Asian countries like Malaysia and Indonesia only Caucasian women were used in Lingerie advertisements (Frith and Mueller, 2003).

Any magazine wanting to be resonant with its target audience needs to represent the social norms and cultural values of the given society. International magazines like Vogue and Elle although have publishing houses in Asian countries most often train their employees in the west. The result being that the forms of representation and especially that of woman can take on a globalized look. As Kyung-Ja Lee,(2000, pg 86) has rightly said " for thirty years, media have been taken to task for reproducing and reinforcing stereotyped images of woman. Yet unfair representation of woman in media still prevails worldwide. Sex stereotyping has been so deeply ingrained, even glorified, that the woman themselves have become desensitised to their own inferior portrayal. The prospects appear even gloomier as the globalisation of media progresses"

Previous researchers have noted that the images of models used in magazines have been extensively retouched to represent the ideal of beauty that is unattainable for all but a very few people.(Greer,1999). By showing models that are 'uniformly thin', flawless and perfectly proportioned the media may contribute towards low self esteem and unhappiness among woman and give rise to problems like eating disorders.( Gauntlett, 2002) Media is also considered a large contributor to the global increase in plastic surgery to change physical appearance among young girls (Lee, 2007). With most models used in international magazines being 'white' the publications are rarefying the ethnic beauty ideals. In fact the obsession with whitening products may be a result of this overuse of White models in Asian publications.

Finally as global media takes readers away from local publications and changing Asian beauty ideals it is important to study the impact of international beauty ideal on local consumers. The Asian society has predominantly been a conservative society yet with the onset of westernisation this society is changing and adapting itself. But as Marieke de Mooij states, "product usage or acceptance does not change overnight, as people's behaviour is stable ." A new idea or concept is only accepted when it is consistent to a change in society and does not imply a fundamental change in culture.


This essay will discuss Vogue magazines cover page and its relationship with its brand identity. Can the brand successfully globalised by altering its cover page image, based on cultural and social variants in each of its markets? Would standardisation of the brands cover page images and visual identity help to avoid criticism on its entry into a new market?


Started in 1982 Vogue magazine is predominantly an American cultural phenomenon. It began as a social weekly periodical and nurtured into a professional and confident monthly publication under the leadership of Condé Nast which took over vogue in 1909. Primarily as a lifestyle magazine catering to both men and woman Vogue has come a long way to be at the pinnacle as 'the fashion magazine for woman in vogue' (David, A., 2006). In an age where French fashion was considered the ultimate Vogue managed to put American Couture on the map. Under the Condé Nast umbrella the magazine not only managed to become a brand name in its own country but also exported fashion ideas to the world.

Today Condé Nast which has a portfolio of 127 magazines in 23 countries believes Vogue to be its cash cow. At present there are a million fashion and beauty magazines such as In Style, Elle and Cosmopolitan circulated around the globe, but in times of crises citizens all over turn to Vogue to confirm the latest fashion news. With readership and subscription levels of about 220,000 a month for the British Vogues, 133,000 a month for the French Vogue and American Vogue, at 1.2 million a month Vogue is the leading magazine in the business of fashion. (IPC Advertising reports) The once small publication eventually became an international phenomenon with issues being published in more than 12 countries.




British Vogue


Spanish Vogue


French Vogue


Argentinean Vogue


German Vogue


Italian Vogue


Brazilian Vogue


Singapore Vogue


Korean Vogue


Taiwanese Vogue


Japanese Vogue


Latin American Vogue


Greek Vogue


Chinese Vogue


Indian Vogue

Since its birth the magazine has strived to serve the society by portraying an example of proper etiquette, beauty, composure and fashion. The magazine not only plays a role in setting latest trends but also records the changes in cultural thinking, actions and clothing through its images. Looking at Vogue through the ages it can be clearly seen that it is also a documentation of the changing roles of woman, and the influences of cultural ideas and politics over time. The power the Vogue magazine has over generations of women has inspired many new magazines like Cosmopolitan and Glamour; all interested in its market share. In spite of this great quantity of magazines circulating around the globe, considering circulation figures and media impact no other publication has managed to accomplish the lasting power and success of Vogue. (David, R., 2007)


"Self definition has always been crucial to vogue." (David, A., 2006). Throughout its first 30 years vogue editors and illustrators made use of the French meaning of vogue, defined in the first dictionary of the Académie Française (1694) as the impulsion or movement of a galley or other ship by the force of rowing. It was only in the 18th century that vogue and fashion were listed as synonyms (Féraud 1787–8).

Since its first issue Vogue magazine has been personified as a youthful young woman. The magazines first cover presented itself in the disguise of a debutante, a young socialite. When Condé Nast bought the magazine in 1909 he brought it into line with other successful publishing ventures and in just over a decade, circulation went from 14,000 to 150,000 while advertising revenue soared from $76,111 to two million dollars (Robinson 1923: 170). He modernised the magazine not just the content but also the cover. He replaced the black and white drawings of the front cover with commissioned, lavish, stylised and signed illustrations. This change helped to attract attention to the magazine and increase circulations. "As an advertising man, he understood the value of having a visual brand or logo and Nast revived the original Vogue trademark, a "distinguished little sketch" which "immediately became known as the Vogue girl" (David, A., 2006). This first "Vogue girl" was just an illustration clad in a fancy dress with the than fashionable leg-o-mutton sleeves. 'Her unnatural ivory white skin, snow white wig, tiny waist and voluptuous bosom, was directed at the fantasies of the magazine's readers' (David, A., 2006).The Vogue girl represented the heritage of those Americans who wished to be different from the New World Americans and was constantly seen as wearing historical costumes and heirlooms. Than too the new world American woman aspired to look like her. All this changed in the 1920's when the "Vogue girl" was changed to an illustration by Georges Lepape. This new image was more streamlined and represented the woman at the heights of fashion in the 1920's. Vogue had gone from importing fashion to exporting it. As times changed so did the magazine cover from illustrations to photographs, making models like Cindy Crawford and celebrities like Madonna a household name. This change in its image was a response to the internationalisation of the magazine.

Today the vogue cover girls are the most glamorous, exotic, unusual and popular persons of the moment. The trend being more towards actresses than models dressed in the heights of fashion, styled by the best stylist and clicked by A-list photographers they are every girl's aspiration and every boy's fantasy. Like its cover girls the magazines is considered to be glamorous, glossy and trendy. (Alexandra Shulman, Vogue U.K. editor). Despite of having these factors common among them, the vogue covers are dissimilar in many aspects depending upon its country of publication.


Anglo –Saxon psychological research states that the concept of self and personality are the basis of Western consumer behaviour. The words "identity" or "personality" have no fixed meaning in the Asian culture. A global brand needs to consider the cultural differences to truly succeed in the world field. A number of research experts and cultural studies suggest that a brand should "think global, act local". This is based upon the theory that "the way people think and perceive any brand or image is guided by the framework of their own culture" (Mooij, M, 2009). The observation of Japanese individuality as a sign of westernisation of the country is a misconception of many global brands.

For more than a decade international magazines have been accused of standardising a beauty ideal across the globe with disregard to the individual cultural and beauty ideals of the host country. For a short duration the values and attributes of a foreign or global personality might have a strong attraction, but ultimately people return to their own local values and culture. For a Brazilian woman the emphasis is on her bottom, "um corpo de violão" which literally means a guitar shaped body is most desirable. No matter how many international magazines showcase buxom beauties, the Brazilian woman would ultimately want a bigger bottom as the point of attraction is "the sweet swing" of the hips. The illustration of a desirable Japanese woman in "The memoirs of a Gesha" suggest, that the Japanese appreciate soft delicate feminine features, small feet and long hair cut in layers. A slim slender graceful body is more desirable than a curvaceous one. In Islamic countries the body is considered an obstacle in viewing ones true beauty. Any bodily decorations or changes are considered a veil over the inner beauty and the "Hijab" is another veil to conceal these changes so that the woman's only public identity would be her inner self. For the Greek it has been symmetry in structure and features, based on Plato's ideas that, "beauty is that which irradiates symmetry rather than symmetry itself." The Nuba tribe in Sudan like dark skin and hairlessness. On studying traditional Indian paintings it can be concluded that the Indian ideals of beauty in a woman is voluptuousness, with the belly and hips being of prominence.( Ei, 2008) The image and identity associated with woman of different geographical locations are deep rooted in their respective cultures. The beauty ideals and a woman's self image in any culture can be understood by studying its paintings, sculpture and artistic representations. Today the artistic or idealistic representations of women are magazine covers, images and photo spreads. These covers are also considered a mode of advertisement for the magazine within that culture. As Steve Taylor has rightly put in his book 100 years of magazine covers "it is hard to identify another cultural artefact which embodies an advertisement for itself in such a powerful way. Magazine covers can be breathtaking, beautiful, confrontational, resonant, heartbreaking, stimulating, irritating and uplifting. At their best they come together as a kind of spontaneous street level exhibition, publicly displaying the work of some of our best creative talent, featuring what is most admirable and dismissible about the modern world, communicating the people and events that shape our culture."

Apart from a mode of advertisement of today's culture a magazine cover plays a dual function of advertising the magazine brand itself. "An impressive cover encourages people to flip through the magazine and buy it". (Alexandra Shulman, British Vogue editor). Getting the magazine cover right is not only ethically important but also financially important to the magazine in order to develop brand loyalty and increased circulations. Thus making it important to study magazine covers as a mode of advertisement and part of the marketing mix, for a magazine publication.


It is a common assumption that 'an advertisement would be effective if the viewer decodes the advertisement successfully,' if there is a significant transfer of attributes. (Mooij, M., 2009). Thus while developing one idea for a global brand or one single motivator for different cultures, one should not assume that the responses would be alike too. An idea being interpreted accurately by the consumers would only happen if 'the senders and receivers share one culture'. If they do not share the same cultural values it may result in misunderstandings and demeaning of brand value within that culture. For example consider the inaugural Vogue covers of India and China. The Indian Vogue cover was styled by the magazines British fashion director while the Chinese vogue was styled by French Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld (China economic net and Fashion week daily dispatch). The covers were not rightly decoded by the consumers and received much criticism. Whereas the covers for the preceding months styled by Anaita Shroff Adajania the fashion director for Vogue India was highly appreciated.(Fashion week daily dispatch)

"The essence of a brand is that it is a name in the memory of consumers. It is a perceptual map of positive and negative associations, a symbolic language, and a network of associations." (Mooij, M.,2009). Vogue with its launch in many Asian countries received much negative associations with its local issues. The local Asian issues of Vogue are considered small ripples in the big pond of Fashion magazines (Armstrong ,L, 2009) and they could never manage to create the impact that American vogue or Italian Vogue have managed to create world over. Vogue India or Vogue China might be sold worldwide but it is not necessary that consumers in all countries consider them global brands. One theory suggests that a global brand is a brand that is strongly associated with its country of origin (Mooij, M., 2009) and for Vogue it's been America. This can be considered positive if the country of origin has a stable global identity. With American values becoming ambiguous and Vogue bifurcating into multiple countries over time its core identity may be threatened. The idea of incorporating local aesthetics with their global image might dilute the brands global image.


A multinational company's personality and identity are the biggest factors influencing consumer (Eales, 1990 as cited in Melewar,T.C, & Saunders, J., 1998). Unrestricted global trade, a competitive marketplace and the fast technological developments have created a situation where consumers don't just buy the product they also "buy" the company that produces it. The brands character, its identity, its image and the confidence it inspires in them help in making the choice between two almost similar product offerings in the market. At the centre of any business and its projected image is its corporate visual identity system. The elements of this system are: name, symbol, and/or logo, typography, colour and slogan (Dowling, 1994). These elements help to sell the company to consumers and its stakeholders. Corporate identity programs have risen due to globalisation (Ind, 1992). The changing business tactics, geographical locations, variations in cultures and changing markets have all encouraged companies to change their corporate identity. "As companies begin to operate on an international basis, the image that they acquired as national producers often becomes inappropriate" (Mills, 1988 as cited in Melewar,T.C, & Saunders, J., 1998).

Some international companies adopt a unified brand image in spite of government and consumer displeasure. The degree of de-standardisation of any company depends upon the strength of the host countries culture, government policies and target market. (Mooij, M., 2009). The decision to standardise a brand image also depends upon the competitive edge derived in either keeping activities central or decentralizing them. However a brand like Vogue that has a truly global orientation needs to express consistent brand values wherever it chooses to compete. Thus making its worldwide image more recognisable for its homogeneity than not.

A major component of a corporate identity is the corporate structure. (Strong, 1987) According to Ind (1992) there exist two corporate identities, one that is the organisational structure and the other that is the visual structure. The Visual structure is concerned with the branding of the product, and how it appears to the consumers. (Gray & Smeltzer, 1985 as cited in Melewar, T.C., & Saunders, J., 1998). The basic concern with the visual structure is the degree of centralisation and decentralisation.

Thus the basic problem faced by Vogue is whether to sell an identical product image to all its consumers or to make modifications as per the local differences. A global brand can be a mass brand satisfying a common product need in all the countries or it can be a brand catering to a common niche in all the countries. Vogue magazine has two options, being a global brand it could standardize the brand and the brand image across the globe so that the Indian woman reading the Indian Vogue would feel equal to the French or American woman reading their respective Vogues. The other option it has is to go local, differentiate between its offerings and treat each market as an individual and not a global product while standardising its visual image, giving the impression of a common brand.

Researchers argue that standardisation of a brand helps the company to achieve a uniform image internationally which in turn increases sales.(Buzzell, 1968, Hovells & Walters, 1972 as cited in Melewar, T.C., & Saunders, J., 1998) . Others were of the opinion that standardisation makes consumers familiar with the product, its services, business diversities and competitive distinction thus helping to establish a uniform corporate image.(Peebles et al ,1977 as cited in Melewar, T.C., & Saunders, J., 1998). Cosmopolitan for example is known around the globe to address personal and sex related issues as it does not change its editorials and articles depending on culture. The band logo/ font type, position or style does not differ according to geographical locations. The brand has achieved a sense of standardisation by not having a distinct country name printed on its cover unlike Vogue.

The research on global corporate visual identity systems by T.C. Melewar and John Saunders (1998) proved that "firms with highly standardised corporate visual identity systems (CVIS) saw themselves reaping more reward from their CVIS than did those with low CVIS standardisation. All custom

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